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Onboard Panthera During St. Maarten Heineken Regatta

Published on March 3rd, 2013

Civilized Racing onboard Panthera during St. Maarten Heineken Regatta. Video and report by Leighton O’Connor.

During the 33rd St. Marteen Heineken Regatta I got to race on Panthera, a six year old Gunboat 66. Peter Johnstone was calling tactics on the boat for the regatta and should be pretty good at it considering he is Gunboats founder.

After I finished my cheese croissant and cup of coffee in a real ceramic cup, I asked Peter where I should keep my gear. He pointed at a table with a red table cloth outside on stern of the boat and said, “Put your cameras on top of the table. They will be fine there all day long. That can be your media center for the day.”

I looked at him with kind of a puzzled face. “Don’t worry, the boat is very stable, they’ll be out the sun, they’ll never get wet and either will you,” Peter said. Well that is where I kept my cameras and lens all day long and they didn’t move an inch. That was a first. Usually, I have to strap cameras to me during races so I can bounce from rail rail hands free. Well there wasn’t a lot of “running” from side to side on Panthera for any of the crew and we just barley hiked. If I needed to switch cameras or lens while we were racing I strolled to the stern and got the gear I needed and strolled back on deck.

Panthera is fully equipped to race or cruise with two twin 75hp diesel engines and has anywhere from 2,500-4,500 square feet of sail up at a time. The main salon is a fully decked out fish bowl in which you can even see the top of the sails from inside. In the front of the salon, next to a very high tech nav station, there is a huge wheel that is that is connected to an outside wheel in the back of the “pit”. The pit is literally a 12ft by 6ft pit at same level of the salon with two doors going out to it from the salon. The pit is at the base of the mast where all the sails can be controlled. All the halyards and sheets work off two powered winches that are controlled by your big toe.

During racing there were 1-3 crew members working the pit right next the driver. We had a total of 11 crew on board and most of their help was needed to raise and lower some huge sails just for racing. Peter said the boat can be cruised very comfortable with two and raced with as a little as six. The previous owner of Panthera did a full circumnavigation, two loops of the Pacific and put over 80,000 miles on the boat. The current owner plans on sailing around the world with his family.

Today we raced against four newer Gunboats; Elvis, Coco de Mer and Tribe. Panthera is the oldest and heaviest boat in the fleet and carries a 14% handicap. We raced 36 miles around St. Maarten and she moved right alone but quite a ways in the back of the fleet. I think the highest we saw for speed was 12 knots in 10 knots of breeze which isn’t too bad. At one point Peter was calling tactics while sitting at one of the huge tables in the grand salon while munching on trail mix. I was next to him munching on a freshly made chicken wrap with fresh vegetables.

The wheel, the pit and the nav station are all within earshot so getting and giving racing feedback is pretty easy and having an enormous refrigerator stocked with all kinds of drinks close by isn’t too bad either. Pretty civilized for racing and sometimes I honestly forgot I was racing. I can see how an owner could take the family out racing (including Grandma) and they wouldn’t hate him afterwards. They would probably actually really love it and want to do it again.

I will admit at one point I did feel like I was racing when Peter asked me to move into the main salon because he didn’t want too much weight in the stern. It was sure better than being asked to hike for real and get my fat ass on the toe rail.

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